First and Second Responding Structural Engineers: What You Need to Know

In this episode, we talk to Scott A. Collins, P.E., SE, Principal at Collins Structural Consulting, PLLC, about first- and second-responding structural engineers (STS) and some of the large-scale disaster projects he worked on.

Engineering Quotes:

Responding Structural Engineers

Responding Structural Engineers

Responding Structural Engineers

Here Are Some of the Questions We Ask Scott:

  • Can you please tell our listeners more about yourself and the work you do?
  • What does a first- and second-responding structural engineer (STS) do?
  • Are first- and second-responder engineers sourced?
  • Can you talk to us about some of the large-scale disaster projects you worked on and what that entailed?
  • What are your process and mindset when going into natural disaster areas?
  • What safety procedures do you follow when working on these projects?
  • Most of your firm’s work is to repair damaged structures. Can you briefly talk to us about how you would assess fire-damaged structures when called out as an STS?
  • When repairing buildings, do you update the entire building to the new codes and regulations or only the parts that are being repaired?
  • How do you ensure effective team communication when working on projects?
  • Do you have any advice for engineers when working on large-scale disaster projects?

Here Are Some of the Key Points Discussed About First and Second Responding Structural Engineers: What You Need to Know:

  • There are three stages in a disaster. The first stage is human life issues, where saving human lives is the main goal. Two engineers, who are the first responders, are assigned to an 80-person rescue team. When possible, they are located near where a disaster event will occur so that they can enter the disaster zone directly after the disaster event has happened to help the rescue workers save lives. Second-responder engineers are focused on getting the people back into their structures safely. The third stage is the recovery stage where the engineers release structures to be repaired.
  • The SCA SEAR program offers an online training course to volunteer engineers that allows them to enter the structures with the building department and determine if the building is habitable or not.
  • When working on large-scale disaster projects, you must be prepared to join a task force and head straight into the natural disaster zone after it passes. First responders are immediately needed to help assess the infrastructure and buildings for life-threatening damage, how it can be avoided, and how the team can safely enter collapsed buildings. Second responders help everyone else because their expertise is not needed immediately.
  • First responders get two training courses in California. The first course involves the navy, firefighters, and engineers assessing if a collapsed building is safe to enter. The second course is about finding ways to get you and your team into a collapsed building safely. You must be able to make a decision immediately in the face of a life-threatening situation.
  • When second responders assess a building with fire damage, it is better to first look from a distance at the outside of the building to see if it could be safe to enter. A camera with a zoom lens can help to get a closer look at areas of interest. If you can enter the building, look at the condition of the load-bearing walls and the roof trusses before going further into the building for further inspection. Always assess the risk and reward benefits during your inspections.
  • There is a section in the building codes that states that if the repairs to the building cost less than 50% of the tax value, all you must do is repair it. If they are above 50% of the tax value, then all repairs will be done subject to the new and updated building codes.
  • The image behind Scott is of a school that was directly hit by an EF4 tornado. Luckily, nobody was hurt in this incident. The repairs cost $65 million, and it was a 24/7 build-back operation. The school was reopened five months later.
  • First responder engineers interact more with the firefighters than the public. Your main goal is to keep them safe and indicate where people could be trapped and where it is safe to go. Task teams have mobile cellphone towers that can supply Wi-Fi to the first responders in less than five minutes. It helps with communication and downloading building plans to a tablet. You can tag places where people need help that are sent to the first responder management team. The engineers must have resources that they can quickly access to help the first responders identify problem areas.
  • Working as a first responder is not for everyone. You must think on your feet, apply what you know from the building code, and immediately assess if the collapsed structure is safe. The buildings are no longer rectangles but three-dimensional shapes — and you need to figure out things like the center of gravity. Experience comes into play when you must push safety factors further than what the rating is for the materials.

More Details in This Episode…

About the Guest: Scott A. Collins, PE, SE

Collins Structural Consulting, PLLC

Scott has over 20 years of experience in the structural engineering of commercial structures and founded Collins Structural Consulting, PLLC in 2009. He is experienced in the design of a variety of commercial structures, including industrial manufacturing, specialty environments (cold rooms, clean rooms, etc.), laboratory space, warehouses, retail space, offices, mid-rise buildings, schools, and hospitals. Scott also actively works as a first responder for the NC Emergency Management as an emergency response engineer.

About the Hosts

Mathew Picardal, PE, SE

The Structural Engineering ChannelMathew is a licensed engineer, practicing on structural projects in California, with an undergraduate degree from Cal Poly Pomona and an M.S. in Structural Engineering from UC San Diego. He has designed and managed various types of building structures, including residential wood apartment buildings, commercial steel buildings, and concrete parking structures and towers. He also hosts the new YouTube channel “Structural Engineering Life,” through which he promotes the structural engineering profession to engineering students who are not familiar with the industry perspective.

Cara Green, P.E.

Hilti North AmericanCara works in Hilti’s North American headquarters as the Structural Engineering Trade Manager for the U.S. and Canada. She is a licensed engineer in Texas and received her bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.


Collins Structural Consulting, PLLC
SEAO SEER Program – Structural Engineers Emergency Response
North Carolina Emergency Management
Connect with Scott Collins, PE, SE, on LinkedIn

This Episode Is Brought to You by PPI

PPIPPI has helped engineers achieve their licensing goals since 1975. Passing the FE and PE exams can open doors to career advancement and new opportunities. Check out PPI’s wide range of prep options, including Live Online courses, OnDemand courses, and digital study tools, to help prepare you to pass your licensing exam. Check out PPI today at to see all the options available for FE and PE exam prep.

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To your success,

Mathew Picardal, P.E., SE, & Cara Green, P.E.
Hosts of The Structural Engineering Podcast

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